Few cracks in the glass ceiling
TheStar.com – opinion/editorials
Published On Sun Sep 04 2011.
Judging from the flattering portraits of female executives in business publications, the increase in female MBA graduates and rhetoric of equality used by business leaders, you’d think women were rising through the ranks of corporate Canada.
You’d be wrong. A new Conference Board of Canada study shows that women’s advancement to the top echelons of business came to a dead halt in the mid-1980s. It has been stalled ever since.
“Now that the rousing early days of feminism are behind us, perhaps we have become complacent about the success of women in senior management,” said Anne Golden, president and chief executive of the Ottawa-based research organization.
The researchers who analyzed the data were shocked. Like most Canadians, they assumed women were slowly but steadily reaching the top. What they found was no improvement since 1987. Using Statistics Canada records, they tracked the percentage of women in senior management over a 22-year period. By 2009, 0.32 per cent of women had made it to the top echelon compared to 0.64 per cent of male workers — virtually identical to the proportions when Brian Mulroney was prime minister, the loonie had just been introduced and Sidney Crosby was a newborn.
The hard numbers were more enlightening than the researchers’ attempts to explain why women had made so little headway.
They pointed to women’s educational choices (arts and humanities as opposed to technical disciplines), their desire for work-life balance, and the stereotypes that still prevail as possible barriers. They pointed out that most employers do not have a strategy to groom women for executive roles. And they echoed from women in business that they are judged on their appearance and expected to adopt male norms.
Sound familiar? It is. These same barriers have been identified repeatedly since women joined the workforce in large numbers in the 1960s and ’70s.
Likewise, the Conference Board’s remedies — more coaching and mentoring programs, a more inclusive work environment, an ongoing effort to promote talented women and track their progress, and a commitment to ensure that women are on the short list for senior management positions — have all been suggested many times.
The mainstream think-tank did not call for a radical shakeup of corporate culture. Nor did it propose new ways that women could use technology to keep their careers on track without sacrificing family responsibilities. It merely stressed that “fostering gender diversity is a natural extension of good business practice.”
But the report does serve one valuable purpose. It shatters the long-standing myth that time corrects gender equities. It’s true that a few female stars have cracked the glass ceiling. But the path to the top is still blocked for most women.
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